Fr. CLIFFORD HOWELL, &J.
THERE has been much correspondence recently in THE CATHOLIC HERALD about the instructive or educative power of the liturgy. How great this power really is we can only appreciate by seeing what it actually effected in the past. It has proved itself capable, without the help of any other agency. of completely forming the Christian mind and inspiring Christian life. This it did during the first six centuries of the Church's history-the period when the liturgy was developing and taking shape in a seemingly spontaneous manner springing from the very minds and hearts of clergy and people. Early Christian writings show us that the prevailing spirit of those days could be summed up in the words " unity " and " joy." "On that day which is named after the sun, all those who live in the city and countryside come together," wrote St. Justin of the second century. Pliny the Younger (A.D. 113) described Christians as " those who are wont to assemble together on a fixed day of the week to sing a song to Christ their God." They wanted to remember their Lord, to rejoice together in all that He had done for them, and to thank God for Hie loving mercies. Even to-day when men desire to thank and honour some great public benefactor they may hold a meeting at which a spokesman makes an address of praise and thanks, and ends with the public presentation of some gift in token of honour and gratitude.
SPEECH OF THANKS
IN the same spirit the early Christians came together in order to hear the head of their community (bishop, or priest appointed by him) make to God a speech of thanks. a " eucharistic " speech, reminding them of the great things God had done for them through Christ; and the speech was climaxed by the presentation of a gift to God. Sunday by Sunday there was recalled to them some particular reason for giving thanks. What we might call " a vote of thanks " was proposed to God in the most eloquent terms which the president (celebrant) could devise. God was thanked for having sent His Son to redeem the world; for the fact that through Him man could be born again to anew life destined for heaven; that the new-horn in Christ were a chosen nation, a royal race, a priestly people; that Christ on the tree of the Cross avenged the defeat sufe fered hy man under the tree of Paradise; that by His triumphant Resurrection He had won victory over death, and by His glorious Ascension had attained to that glory which they hoped, one day, to share with Him. But always. each time, the central item recalled was the fact that .-on the night before He suffered,
He took Mead . , and likewise the chalice ... and said: " Do this in memory of Mc."
The people heard and understood all this speech for it was in their own tongue) and saw the celebrant repeat the actions of Christ (tor he faced them over the altar); and when he continued " Memores . . offerimus" .'Remembering . . . we offer these gifts . . through Him and with Himand in Him, to Thy glory! " they broke out into thunderous applause (for we know from St. Jerome that their Amen resounded through the church " like a thunder-clap ").
Ir was no mere general notion which the people gatheted (such as that consecration took place and sacrifice was offered); they were given very specific knowledge of the basic truths of Christianity-the Fall, the Incarnation, Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of their Lord, the Descent of the Holy Spirt and Foundation of the Church. .For all these things were explicitly proclaimed to them week by week as motiees for thanking God; all were spread before their mind's eye in impressive wordpictures comprehensible to every Christian. And to key them up to the mood of gratitude and joy suitable for the hearing of the great eucharistic speech, there were read to them before this speech some exhortation of one of the Apostles and some story from Our Lord's life. Through these readings (much longer than they are now) the people obtained quite an extensive knowledge of the New Testament; moreover the readings were explained to them and related in the homily to the " vote of thanks" which would follow. They also had songs to sing between the readings. A Cantor mounted on to a step and sang a simple refrain expressing thanks or trust or petition or joy-just a few words with a few notes which the people could easily repeat. " Let us rejoice in this day which the Lord has made! " or ''Help us, 0 God our Saviour." or the favourite cry of joy " And while the choir sang (in their own tongue) one of the beautiful psalms of David for them to listen to, the people would join in with the chorus after each verse. They could neither read nor write, but certain verses of the psalms, continually repeated in this manner. became implanted in their memories and engraved, as it were, on their hearts.
IT was a wonderful school of prayer, especially the prayer of adoration and praise, which equipped them with phrases that could come naturally to their lips whenever they turned to God in prayer at quiet moments during the ensuing week. What were the effects of all this? They were tremendous, as we are in a position to judge from knowing the results. Just as a child. by living with its mother. picks up the speech and outlook of its mother, so did these early Christians grow up in the speech and thought and mind of the Church hy uttering her prayers together and singing her songs together at the weekly " eucharistic" meeting wherein they thanked God for the benefits of their redemption proposed to them as subjects for praise.
And the effect of all this was so profound that it shaped the very course of history.
For we are confronted with the amazing fact that whereas in the first century the civilised world was predominantly pagan. by the sixth century it was predominantly Christian.
The world had been transformed. What had transformed it? The instruction and inspiration of the weekly Macs 1 That must he the answer, for in those days the Church had no pastoral activity except the celebration of Mass, 'There were public Masses on Sun da-t, Ember Days. certain days of Lent-and nothing else. No Catholic schools, no confraternities, no Catholic Press, no missions. no catechism classes for children. no youth movementsnone of those things which seem to 1.1s essential means of pastoral work. There was only the Mass.
'DIG IT OUT'
T1 R. JOSEPH JUNG1. MANN, S.L. great his torian of the liturgy, writes in his book Yong Sinne der Messe (p. 49): "There were none of the apostolic works which we regard as indispensable elements of pastoral practice . . but there was the Christian Sunday, with a liturgy truly alive arid rooted in the life and feeling of the people.
" And the power of its inspiration was so overwhelming that it sufficed to stand in the place of all those other things which we judge as essentials ; it sufficed to make families so Christian that they succeeded in bringing up children from infancy to Christian maturity; it sufficed to impregnate Christians with a communiis -consciousness and a grasp of the true nature of the Church as one body; it sufficed to inspire the faithful (or at least a great many of them) with a Spirit so apostolic that they possessed and used the power to win their fellow-men to Christ. " For the very period of history in which there existed no Catholic schools or other pastoral works was the period in which Christianity triumphed over paganism." e It triumphed not only exteriorly, but interiorly, in that it achieved the fundamental transformation whereby a pagan society became a Christian society. It was the very period in which was effected a complete revolution in contemporary thought by the shift of emphasis from the world of time to the world of eternity. " In short, this period saw the substitution for the pagan philosophy of life of a Christian philosophy which finally blossomed forth into the Christian culture of the Middle Ages. And when we search for visible and tangible factors to which we can ascribe this amazing transformation, we can discover no explanation other than the liturgy of the Church-especially the Sunday liturgy."
From this, of course. we should not • conclude that the way to Christianise our contemporary Pagan world would be to shut down our Catholic schools and dissolve our sodalities and youth movements,
We should, however, draw the lesson that all these need to he energised by the colossal power of instruction and inspiration which is inherent in the liturgy. It is all stilt there. if only we can learn to dig it out and apply it to our people Sunday by Sunday throughout the year.